An Apprenticeship in Arms: The Origins of the British Army 1585-1702

By Roger B. Manning | Go to book overview
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The decay of the militia

The Romans, who understood the art of war beyond all the world, did not
make soldiery a refuge of poverty and idleness; for none but men of fortune
and property, whose private interest firmly engaged them to the public good,
had the honour of serving in their armies.

[John Toland], The Militia Reformed: Or an Easy Scheme of Furnishing
England with a Constant Land Force
(1698), 19.

As to the militia, I suppose every man is now satisfied that we must never
expect to see it made useful till we have disbanded the army.

[John Trenchard], A Short History of Standing Armies in
(1698), 40.

Our security is the militia; that will defend us and never conquer us.

Sir Henry Capel, speaking to the House of Commons, 1673, in Anchitell
Grey (comp.), Debates of the House of Commons, from the year 1667 to the
Year 1694
, 10 vols. (1769), i. 218.

Many landowners and political leaders of the Three Kingdoms opposed standing armies, although they did pay lip service to the exercise of arms and advocated or participated in the militia. These beliefs and prejudices were acquired from reading Machiavelli or his disciples, such as James Harrington and Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun. Machiavelli was the chief source of the civic tradition and the concept of a citizen militia. Only in the British Isles did politically articulate people still seriously view a citizen militia as an alternative to a standing army in the latter part of the seventeenth century. The experiences of the civil wars had confirmed their hatred and mistrust of standing armies as instruments of absolutism and tyranny. Yet it could not be denied that the county militias of England were in decline as effective military forces for the defence of the realm, while the militias of Ireland and Scotland were only sporadically activated and lacked continuity. James VII and II denigrated the militia of England for being ineffective and disloyal. Those who feared standing armies, especially when commanded by Catholic monarchs, assumed that the militia could never flourish until the army was disbanded. They assumed that a militia would be more loyal, because an


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